2009-06-05 / Top Stories

Forum Introduces 31st Council Candidates To Public

By Miriam Rosenberg

Jacques Leandre (second from left); Michael Duncan; Councilman James Sanders Jr. and Fred Lewis listen, as Marquez Claxton (far left) answers a resident's question during the forum. Jacques Leandre (second from left); Michael Duncan; Councilman James Sanders Jr. and Fred Lewis listen, as Marquez Claxton (far left) answers a resident's question during the forum. With three months to go before the democratic primary for the 31st Councilmatic district, five challengers joined the incumbent for a lively debate last week during which one opponent dropped out of the race and the current councilman drew jeers for leaving early.

The City Council Candidate Open Forum, held at Blanche Day Care Center II on May 26, was sposored by E.N.A.C.T. (Edgemere Neighborhood Action Community Team) and the 101 Precinct Community Council.

In addition to the incumbent James Sanders Jr., those running are Marquez Claxton, Jacques Leandre, Michael Duncan and Fred Lewis. David Hooks, as we reported last week, dropped out of the race during his opening comments at the forum.

Each candidate put forward ideas he felt would resonate with the citizens of the area. Fred Lewis received a chorus of "No"s when he asked if people were satisfied with the high unemployment, the failing schools, the transportation system or being a homeowner with a basement that flooded each time it rained in Rockaway.

"We have to have a better quality of life out here in Rockaway," said Lewis.

Michael Duncan, the former chief of staff for Sanders, said he is not a politician. "I think we have to stop electing politicians and start electing activists - people from the ranks of you and I," said Duncan, a PTA president for 15 years and president and coach of the Rosedale Soccer Program. "We need to build institutions," continued Duncan. "Where are our shopping centers, our banks?"

Jacques Leandre, who brought several of his mainland supporters with him, said his parents emigrated to Far Rockaway in 1972 and then moved to Rosedale. Leandre touted his management skills as an asset to being elected councilman. "I'm a manager. I know how to negotiate when we get our fair share, and if we don't get our fair share we get the brunt of the benefits," said Leandre. "I'm an attorney by trade - a community activist by inspiration and aspiration."

Marquez Claxton, a former NYPD detective and member of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, laid out a five-point platform for his candidacy. "The economy which involves employment, education … health - and that's been touched on as far as the peninsula's lack of a trauma center here on the peninsula … housing - we're talking about the incursion of development, the displacing of people … with foreclosures, and of course justice. Justice is the easy one because many of you have heard me talk about the justice issues, the criminal justice system, the police department, and the court system. And I will continue to do that."Sanders tried to point out that changes were easier said than done. "Let me tell you something, my friends - you just can't say we need to have big boxes [stores] or things of this nature - it's part of the solution," said Sanders. "But another part of it is we have to create our own businesses. Toward this end, this is why I funded an entrepreneurial program [through RDRC and you get a $5000 grant]." He added, "It's harder than it looks. Much harder. And anybody who says that I could just come in, and just by my being in a place, I can make everything happen - you should immediately suspect." Despite announcing his intention to leave the forum early, his departure 40 minutes prior to the end of the forum drew jeers from those at the well-attended forum. "You're in very good hands. These gentlemen will do very well," said Sanders as he got up to leave. "Same old, same old," said one person, as another said, "You know this is very disrespectful that you invite him and he cannot stay for the complete two hours."

According to Sanders' chief of staff, Donovan Richards, the councilman's schedule is set several weeks in advance, and E.N.A.C.T. set the forum a couple of days before the event. The 31st District includes Far Rockaway, Arverne, Bayswater, Edgemere, Rosedale, Laurelton, and Springfield Gardens.

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